The recent pickup in overseas demand came too late for Christmas orders. But while lamenting a lost season, the hundreds of traders in the small-commodity bazaar in Yiwu, Zhejiang province, said they were holding their hopes high for the spring-buying season, which will begin in earnest after the National Day holiday.
Lounging in her store in the airport-sized building, Jin Xianjuan recounted the many anxious weeks in early summer as she waited for the seasonal flood of orders that never came.
Jin, who has been in the export business for more than 10 years, said it was the worst time she has ever experienced.
Overseas orders for pre-Christmas deliveries usually are the highlight of the year for her and many other traders in Yiwu, the leading market town for the thousands of small-good manufacturers in the highly industrialized Zhejiang province.
"We earn a fair chunk of our annual income from Christmas sales," Jin said.
The traders mainly deal with overseas buyers and with bulk orders, excluding, of course, clients from around the region dropping by to buy a cute doll or a new electronic gadget that is not yet available in traditional retail shops.
"Our bread-and-butter business is bulk sales to buyers from Europe or the Middle East," said Jin.
Like all the other traders, Jin spends most of her time waiting for buyers to visit her shop. Before the global financial crisis started in 2008, the vast space in the five-bazaar complex was full of buyers from around the world in the busy periods. In those days, "almost every season was busy", said Jin. "There were no slack times to speak of."
But things have changed.
"This year's Christmas sales were particularly bad for us," said Jin. "Orders have dropped by an average of 50 percent."
An average order used to be worth about 100,000 yuan ($16,290), she said. This year, "the average size of each order was smaller and we had to cut our prices to get more orders", she added.
The tough times, Jin said, were exacerbated by the appreciation of the yuan against the US dollar and other major currencies.
"Our profit margins are very thin already," Jin said. "There was no way we could pass on the exchange risks to the buyers, because they weren't doing that well either."
Latest data from the Hangzhou Customs District showed that the Christmas products shipped out from Yiwu Customs between May and June amounted to $13.8 million, down 7.1 percent year-on-year. The drop was even bigger in yuan terms as a result of the appreciation.
July's Yiwu Commodity Index, which tracks export volume, showed that the shipment of Christmas products decreased from 1,299.25 points on June 1 to 1,090.03 points on June 30.